It was probably the only time I've ever seen break dancers spontaneously rock out in a big South Beach nightclub. Sometime after midnight on Friday, January 21, you could find Angelo and Sito pulling backflips and headspins as the crowd formed a circle around them, oohing and aahing and clapping. Meanwhile, DJ Mike E. Simms took a break from his glossy pop-hop set to spin some furious tracks from the golden age of hip-hop.
This wasn't an old-school revival jam, though, but a Spanish rap showcase and a birthday party for 23-year-old Dave "Supa Dup" Duperón. Several minutes after the circle of people dispersed back onto the dance floor, Supa Dup took the stage and introduced Platano. Flanked by a pair of hype men, Platano rushed through three Spanglish tracks and freestyled over popular beats such as T.I.'s "Bring 'Em Out." "Sweetwater, come on with it/Opa-Locka, come on with it," he and his crew chanted.
While Platano's performance seemingly ended before anyone could notice, the seven-person crew Syndicato -- Salazar, Sito, Cuatro, Diamante, Minority (which includes the aforementioned Sito and Angelo), and Don V.A. -- occupied the stage for a good twenty minutes while each member performed a few tracks. Finally, there was the Sofla Kingz, who worked through a longer set that demonstrated why they're generating a nice little buzz throughout the city. The best moment was somewhat unexpected: Just as Tropyco and Bombillo were ready to launch into "Get You Naked," the DAT tape cut out. So while the group's DJ Iceberg tried to get the machine to work, Sito jumped onstage and beat boxed as the Sofla Kingz chanted, "I just wanna get you naked." Believe me, it sounded better than it reads.
A whirlwind concert, the entire thing lasted around an hour and left me wondering, Who are these people? To get some answers, I recently drove out to Miami Lakes and met with Supa Dup, the man of honor for the night. I had wrongly assumed Supa Dup was just another promoter; he's actually a furious multi-tasker, a second-year college student majoring in television and radio broadcasting at Florida International University. He also helps manage Syndicato through his own company, Supa Runs the City, and is an intern at Sony Latino.
"To be honest with you, I wake up every day at 8:00 a.m., and don't go to sleep until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.," he says during a brief midmorning conversation at a local Starbucks. Why not just drop out of school and focus on the music industry? "The only reason I'm in school is because no one in my family graduated from high school," he says. "I promised my parents I would do it."
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Puerto Rico, Supa Dup moved here four years ago and befriended two fellow break dancers, Benhur "Sito" Barrero and Angelo "Keen" Morales. When Sito and Angelo formed Infinite 777, an urban talent agency named after their b-boy crew, Supa Dup signed on as an events coordinator and A&R representative. "[We managed] urban models for Kerry Ellis and Phat Farm, break dancers, DJs, and rappers," says Supa Dup. From 2000-2004, Infinite 777 assembled talent for a variety of music videos (including Lenny Kravitz's "Believe in Me"), films (Bad Boys II), commercials, and print advertising.
It was a commercial for Kia Scion featuring Sito and Angelo that drew the attention of Sony Latino. Since the clip was scheduled for broadcast in Latin America, Supa Dup says Sito and Angelo performed a brief jingle in Spanish. "Sony saw that, and they contacted me. They were like, öHey, are you guys signed?' And we're like, öNo, we're not signed,'" he explains.
Sony Latino signed Minority (Sito and Angelo's group with MCs Phil and Mike) to a record deal. But since the label had more experience in the burgeoning reggaeton market, it decided to assemble a supergroup of several local acts and introduce them all together as Syndicato, a onetime project. "The members are individuals. They're like fingers [on a hand]. If you hit someone with fingers, you don't have much impact. But if you hit them with a fist, you have much more impact."
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Of course, California has a long history of Spanish hip-hop artists going back to Kid Frost, and it currently boasts stars such as Akwid. But here in the East, which has a more multinational Latin community than the predominantly Mexican West Coast, reggaeton is the sound that is currently merging Spanish with rap's linguistic lexicon. "Spanish hip-hop has never been done before. All they have is reggaeton," explains Supa Dup. He compares the difference between Spanish hip-hop and reggaeton with hip-hop and dancehall. "We want to do Spanish hip-hop and take it to that next level."
What do groups such as Syndicato have to do with your typical hip-hop fan? Supa Dup says the group raps in Spanglish, reflecting the bicultural lives its eight members and millions of other Latin Americans lead in this country. "You have second-generation Hispanic people in the United States. They're learning Spanish from their parents, but they're living with the American culture. They're growing up listening to Power 96 and 99 Jamz, but at home they're speaking Spanish," he says.
Syndicato's debut album is scheduled to come out sometime this spring.